I can smell those white, cardboard boxes filled with chocolate & almond bars now. It’s a scent like no other. The white box with cut out carrying handles was also like no other. The prizes for the students who sold the most candy bars were like no other: 1st place was a brand new banana seat bike with tassels on the handlebars, there was basketballs, footballs, earphones and last place was always a nifty, battery-operated, handheld radio. About a month before the crates of boxes of candy bars arrived, we would be given these glossy order forms to get “pre-orders” for the 50 cent bars. Assistant Principal, Mr. Perez, used the returned order forms to estimate how many bars to order. He never ordered enough. Once the boxes arrived at school, each classroom was called to come to the book room where the boxes were stored and Mr. Perez would load up dollies with boxes and walk them over to each classroom and distribute the boxes to each student. The contest was on! When the dismissal bell rang that afternoon, just about every student was carrying a box of bars home with them. Some had already started to eat away at their stash of World’s Finest Chocolate Bars. That night, my Mom would account for the bars and then take boxes with her to work and sell bars for me and my brother every day until the sales contest was over. Mom could sell the hell out of those delicious scrumptious chocolate bars. But try as she might, my brother’s and my efforts always fell short of winning that shiny new bike with the banana seat and tassels on the handlebars . . . . and, there was a reason for that. It didn’t matter how many houses my brother and I visited, how many doors we knocked on, how many dogs chased us, how many doors we avoided (because we knew El Viejo Cucuey or the neighborhood perv lived there, or someone like Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird lived there), it was never enough to out sell Queta. Queta Ruiz was the youngest of a huge set of siblings, Lori and Rocket were just a couple of her siblings. She had like 20 brothers and sisters. Okay maybe not that many but it sure looked like it. The Ruiz’s lived in the large house at Grant and 16th St., across from Tiny Tot Daycare. It had a wraparound porch and a large yard. Queta was always the top candidate to win that candy bar sales 1st place prize, that shiny new bike with the banana seat and tassels on the handlebars. Queta had an entire sales operation and each of her siblings helped her, year after year, to either win that shiny new bike with the banana seat and tassels on the handlebars or the 2nd place prize, or on rare occasion the 3rd place prize for sales of those World Finest Chocolate Candy Bars. Upon the conclusion of the candy sales contest, Mr. Perez would set aside a few minutes before the end of the school day to announce the winners over the P.A. system . . . 8th place goes to . . . blah blah blah, 4th place goes to blah blah blah . . . and this year’s 1st place goes to QUETA RUIZ (again!). Jeezus how many bikes can Queta use or ride???? Nowadays, every time I see those chocolate bars, I think of how hard my Mom and every Mom at J.T. Canales Elementary School worked to sell those chocolate bars so we could have plenty of and new P.E. equipment from year to year, I think of times when children could walk the streets, carefree and peddle their bars until the next hopscotch game seemed like a better idea and I think of Queta and all those shiny, new bikes with banana seats and tassels on the handlebars she won. And I then try and buy an entire box of those chocolate bars from students trying to fundraise for their school in honor of days and times gone by.